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About This Project
This website was created by the undergraduate students of the "Scrapbooks and Nineteenth Century American Culture" class, facilitated by Dr. Ashley Reed of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The focus of this course is the scholarly examination of a nineteenth-century scrapbook located in the Special Collections department of Carol M. Newman Library.
Each student was tasked with the transcription and explication of a single poem collected in the Virginia Lucas scrapbook. (You can view digital images of the entire scrapbook here.) Included on each poem's page is an image of the scrapbook page from which the poem was retrieved, along with a transcription and links to further readings. In addition to the analysis of this scrapbook, the students discussed the works of select nineteenth-century poets and poetesses. With this background, the students then chose a research paper topic pertaining to nineteenth-century poetry. The purpose of this digitized compilation is to explore poetry circulation in an effort to create a more thorough understanding of nineteenth-century literary culture.
About Virginia Lucas
Virginia Bedinger Lucas was born on December 16th, 1837, in Rion Hall, in Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia). She was the daughter of William Lucas and Virginia Ann Bedinger, but was adopted by her cousin Ann Elizabeth Davis after her mother passed away. With Ann Elizabeth Davis she moved to Kentucky, where she spent most of her childhood days. Once Virginia was old enough to attend school she was sent to Staunton, Virginia, to a school for girls. After her schooling she refused to go back to Kentucky with her adopted mother, but opted to return to Rion Hall, the true Lucas Family home. During the time Virginia spent in this scenic town near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, she developed many of her ideas for her poetry. She had one serious suitor, her first cousin by the name of George Washington. However, Virginia’s father disapproved of their relationship due to this family connection, and George Washington fled West Virginia for Missouri, never to return again. During her lifetime Virginia never published any of her poetry under her real name, but rather used the pseudonym ‘Eglantine.’ Daniel Bedinger Lucas, her older brother, lived in Rion Hall with her. The two shared a close relationship, and Daniel saw the poetic talent Virginia possessed, which ultimately led to his desire to publish many of her works after she passed away. Virginia died on April 27th, 1867, at only twenty-nine years old. Although Virginia had two other siblings besides Daniel, he was the one responsible for continuing her poetic legacy.
Although we do not know much about Virginia Bedinger Lucas we can infer many things about her poetry based on the role of the poetess in the nineteenth century. It was normal for women to write poetry, but their work was received very differently from that of their male counterparts. An example of this can be found in the 1848 edition of The Female Poets of America, written by Rufus Griswold. He warned his readers, “It is less easy to be assured of the genuineness of literary ability in women than in men. The moral nature of women, in its finest and richest development, partakes of some of the qualities of genius; it assumes, at least, the similitude of that which in men is characteristic or accompaniment of the highest mental inspiration” (quoted in Jackson 55). Many women poets in this time period wrote under aliases to avoid unfair criticism based on their gender. Consequently, we can assume that Virginia wrote under the alias ‘Eglantine’ to avoid this bias as well.
About Nineteenth-Century Scrapbooks
In the 1830s, print technology advanced and the number of publishing companies increased. Mary Louise Kete notes that as a consequence of this expanding technology, publishers began to market “elaborately bound dedicated ‘blank books’ containing illustrations and other apparatus designed to encourage the owner’s practice of poetry” (Kete 26). Owners of blank books filled them with favorite poems from both recognized and non-attributed poets. Owners could contribute their own characteristic style to the organization of their scrapbooks.
By the 1850s, many Americans began making scrapbooks, which slowly replaced commonplace books. These scrapbooks, typically made for an individual’s own use, might include newspaper clippings, photographs, or pieces of writing cut and pasted into an often reused single book. Kete recognizes that owners of scrapbooks, when copying poetry into them, could make personalizing changes and “then put their own names to [the changed poem] without anxiety as to ‘ownership’” (Kete 26). Literacy was growing in the nineteenth century, and scrapbooking allowed people an opportunity to share what they read with others, even children. In this time, scrapbooks were considered “an index to the popular heart” in that they offered a look into what literature people enjoyed enough to share (Garvey 37). Unlike newspapers, which were considered disposable and typically only lasted a brief time, scrapbooks had the ability to exist even beyond their owner’s death. Kete notes that scrapbooks are “repositories of ‘fond remembrances,’... devoted to the function of bridging the distances of geography or death by allowing the writer to continue to speak to (or whisper to) the reader in a language... which will never be forgot[ten]” (Kete 26).
For modern comparison, nineteenth-century scrapbooking can be seen as a precursor to a Pinterest board or a Spotify playlist. In other words, this type of scrapbook is a collection of poetry and artifacts that a person enjoys, mashed together in a central location. One can also add their own material to the scrapbook, just as one can create their own "pin" on Pinterest. In this particular scrapbook, Virginia Lucas includes her original poem "The Blue Forget-Me-Not."
Similarly, poetry was to nineteenth-century America as music is to twenty-first-century America, and a poetry scrapbook can be seen as a modern-day Spotify playlist. Just as we are constantly exposed to music, whether it be in our cars, in a store, or in a restaurant, nineteenth-century Americans were constantly exposed to poetry, since it was included in newspapers and magazines and constantly read aloud in schools, at social events, and in the home. A Spotify playlist is a modern nineteenth-century scrapbook in that it is a place where beloved songs can find a home, just like beloved poems found a place in a scrapbook.
In the nineteenth century, "messages traveled at unprecedented speed and volume across the growing country, spreading information in ways that made news central to economic and political life" (Garvey 4). This informational boom is akin to the modern information age of technology, which provides a central medium for creating these modern collages of interests. New virtual platforms create a space for collecting and curating that collection to suit one's interests and personal taste, just like the scrapbook created a space for Virginia Lucas to keep her favorite poems in one place.
About Virginia Lucas's Scrapbook
Virginia Lucas’s scrapbook is a marvel of age and preservation. The dead remains of colorful pressed flowers and butterflies, as well as the tufts of hair sewn into the yellowing pages, are unfamiliar yet intriguing. The approximately 8”x10” book consists of around 250 pages of hand-written poetry in beautiful calligraphy, magazine/newspaper clippings of more poetry, and the aforementioned artwork. The handwritten poetry is a combination of poems by other poets (written from around 1770 to 1861) and some of Virginia's own poetry. A prime example of her own poetry can be found on page 87, dated “Cold Spring, May 1st 1862.”
This scrapbook was compiled around the 1860s and was probably put together by Virginia Lucas, sister to Daniel Bedinger Lucas. Certain aspects of the stylized calligraphy match the features of a document written by Virginia Lucas that our class previously analyzed. In addition, there is a stamp on the seventeenth sheet of the book that reads “Virginia Female Institute Staunton, VA.” This is a school that Virginia Lucas attended. These two pieces of evidence have led our class to consider that Virginia Lucas was the one who compiled the scrapbook, though the collection of materials to which it belongs is attributed to her more famous brother Daniel.
Bedinger, Doug. "Virginia Bedinger Lucas (131)." Bedinger Family History and Genealogy. http://www.bedinger.org/virginia-bedinger-lucas.html. Accessed 3 November 2016.
Garvey, Ellen Gruber. Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Jackson, Virginia. "The Poet as Poetess." The Cambridge Companion To Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Ed. Kerry Larson. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 54-75.
Kete, Mary Louise. “The Reception of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry.” The Cambridge Companion To Nineteenth-Century American Poetry. Ed. Kerry Larson. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 15-35.
Lucas, Virginia Bedinger, 1837-1867, “Scrapbook of poetry, newspaper clippings and pressed flowers, likely by Virginia Bedinger Lucas, sister of Daniel Bedinger Lucas, c. 1860s (Ms1995-012),” VT Special Collections Online. http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/Appalachia/Ms1995-012_Scrapbook
Lucas, Daniel Bedinger [and Virginia Lucas]. The Wreath of Eglantine, and Other Poems, Ed. and In Part Composed by Daniel Bedinger Lucas. Baltimore: Kelly, Piet, and Co., 1869. HathiTrust, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.hn1p6z.